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Judge denies motion to declare Va. death penalty unconstitutional

Cameras barred from courtroom

Lee Boyd Malvo, center
Lee Boyd Malvo, center

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CNN's Jeanne Meserve says the case of John Lee Malvo, accused in the D.C. sniper shootings, raises the question of executing juveniles. (March 2)
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FAIRFAX, Virginia (CNN) -- A judge Monday denied a defense motion to declare the state's death penalty unconstitutional in the case of Lee Boyd Malvo, who could face capital punishment if convicted of killing an FBI employee during a string of sniper killings in the Washington metro area last fall.

Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Maro Rouch also prohibited the use of television cameras or still photography during court proceedings in the case, but she will allow a closed-circuit camera to operate so people can watch the proceedings from a room in the county building next to the courthouse.

Rouch said she was concerned about the potential prejudicial impact of television coverage on potential jurors in related trials. The 18-year-old Malvo -- who sat attentively in a green jumpsuit -- also faces charges in neighboring jurisdictions in the shootings.

He is charged with the Oct. 14 murder of 47-year-old FBI analyst Linda Franklin outside a Home Depot store in Falls Church, Va. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. His trial starts November 10.

The defense motion regarding the Virginia death penalty had said the statute's standards of "vileness" and "depravity of mind" are too vague. Prosecutors called the motion "68 pages of diatribe against the Supreme Court of Virginia."

Earlier, neighboring Prince William County barred television cameras from covering the trial of John Muhammad, Malvo's alleged companion in the shootings, but didn't say whether still cameras would be allowed.

A group of newspapers and TV networks, including CNN, had sought permission to use cameras in the courtroom, citing public interest and concern for justice.

But Malvo's attorneys opposed cameras, including a closed-circuit camera, saying it will make it hard for them to monitor witnesses who may view the trial at the remote location.

Rouch heard 13 motions Monday from the prosecution and defense. Malvo's attorneys said that in a future hearing, they will fight to have confessions excluded from the trial.

They contend any admission by Malvo was illegally obtained, because a guardian or an attorney wasn't present during interrogation.

According to prosecutors, Malvo has confessed to shooting several victims in the spree. They said he "has admitted on more than one occasion that he shot Mrs. Franklin in the head," and also "admitted to killing a number of other victims."

Malvo "was calm and boastful of his doings" and his admission "contains a fantastic amount of detail," prosecutors wrote in motions before the hearing.

In response to other motions, the judge sided with the defense that the number of law enforcement officers in the courtroom and sitting near Malvo during the trial should be limited to avoid making him look like he was a danger to the jury.

Attorneys said the number at the hearing -- six -- was acceptable.

In addition, Rouch said defense attorneys could screen potential jurors in groups of three for sensitive questions, allowed the defense to hire three investigators to help with the workload and refused to give defense attorneys additional pre-emptory challenges during jury selection.

And the judge said defense attorneys may ask a mental health expert to evaluate Malvo and assist them in preparing information on his character, condition and history.

In other motions filed Monday, defense attorneys are seeking all exculpatory evidence -- evidence that would tend to acquit -- that investigators may have accumulated. They have submitted a 56-part motion that was being reviewed Monday afternoon. Prosecutors call many of the demands a "fishing expedition," but the judge had approved several of the requests.

In documents filed by prosecutors, Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh repeated the allegation that Malvo and Muhammad acted as a "sniper team."

Malvo is charged on three counts: premeditated murder in the commission of an act of terrorism, premeditated murder of more than one person within a three-year period, and use of a firearm during a murder.

Malvo and Muhammad, 42, are suspected in 20 shootings, including 13 deaths, in the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana.

The next motions hearing in the case is set for March 31.

In another issue involving the sniper case, Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Chief Charles Moose will go before the county's ethics commission Monday night. Moose led the sniper task force and was the most high-profile lawman in the case. The commission will discuss whether Moose's book deal and sale of movie rights violates county ethics laws.

-- Correspondent Patty Davis and CNN Producer Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.

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